Pappas not leaving, just ‘downsizing’

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9-10-09 Allegro Hotel, 171 w. Randolph St., Chicago Slating begins for the Democratic primary election. Maria Pappas. (for Pallasch story) [Keith Hale/Sun-Times]

Maria Pappas was incredulous Wednesday that I would be calling to ask about her apartment instead of inquiring about her new website on local government debt that she considers the crowning achievement of her political career.

What can I say? Sometimes a guy just gets tired of being serious and purposeful and wants to know silly stuff such as why the Cook County treasurer has her Water Tower Place condominium on the market for $2.9 million.

At first, Pappas didn’t want to answer, uncharacteristically offering a “no comment,” but later she relented.

“I am downsizing. I don’t need all this,” Pappas told me in a telephone interview from her home Wednesday afternoon.

By “all this,” Pappas said she was referring to her 48th floor corner unit in one of Chicago’s most prestigious addresses – with views to the south, east and west.

“I need to be in a small space. I don’t need this much,” said Pappas, who said she got a “steal” when she bought the condo outright in 1998 for $825,000 after moving out of another tony address in the John Hancock Center.

Pappas said she and her husband, a successful attorney, are at an age where people make such life reassessments.

“I’m 63 years old. When I met you, I was 39 years old,” said Pappas, who as best I can tell doesn’t turn 63 until next month.

“I just want to ride out into the sunset,” she said.

That caught my attention. I asked if she was planning to leave county government. Pappas has been treasurer since December 1998 and a county commissioner for eight years before that – and rumors of her retirement are frequent.

“No, I’m not leaving,” she said.

Got it. Just downsizing. So where does she plan to move?

“Let’s see if it sells first,” Pappas said.

That might be an issue. In the past 12 months, nothing in the building has sold for close to her $2.9 million asking price.

“Patrician elegance with world class status, this 48th floor condo in the Water Tower Complex is only for the truly discriminating,” states the listing from The Realty Brokers Ltd. “Stunning views of Chicago’s lakefront, Michigan Avenue and other Chicago architecture are a feast for the eyes and spirit. Must be seen to be appreciated.”

Real estate taxes are listed at $16,955 and the monthly condo assessment is $2,515 monthly.

The listing promises 3,320 square feet, although Pappas says it’s really more like 2,800. It’s also listed as three bedrooms, while she says there are only two.

“It was reconstructed, so it’s two.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t get Pappas to tell me how swell the place is and why somebody should buy it.

“It’s a very personal thing. Maybe nobody wants it,” she said in a tone of voice indicating a shrug.

The listing agent for the property is Peter Karahalios, who has a full-time job as Pappas’ chief legal counsel and sells real estate on the side.

Pappas said there was no conflict-of-interest and that county employees such as Karahalios are permitted to work 20 hours a week in a second job. She said he does his brokerage work on weekends and evenings.

I asked if he was giving her a break on the commission.

“It’s the standard brokerage rate,” she said.

Shortly after I got off the phone with Pappas, I noticed she’d canceled the listing at some point Wednesday, which she hadn’t mentioned. I rang her back.

“I’ve de-listed it until this thing calms down,” Pappas said. “Maybe I’ll just do it by word of mouth.”

Pappas was much more eager to talk about her new website, intended to provide a detailed picture of the financial condition of every local taxing body in Cook County.

Pappas said homeowners need the data to understand why many of them will see their property taxes double over the next decade. So is that why she’s selling?

“I’m downsizing,” she said. Got it.

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